Two key unanimous votes by the Falls Church City Council at its meeting Monday night are opening up the City for a more diverse population makeup. The unanimous 7-0 votes will now allow a wider participation of residents, removing language that requires applicants seeking to serve on City boards and commissions and to qualify for affordable housing to be “qualified voters of the City” and at least 18 instead of 21 years of age.
There were two separate measures, the first being to remove restrictions on age and voting status within the City to qualify for appointment to volunteer boards and commissions, a move that will require a change in the City’s charter and thereby requiring a favorable vote by the state legislature.
The change to remove citizenship requirements as a condition for qualification as a recipient of affordable housing in the city was also approved unanimously as a separate agenda item and requires only an administrative adjustment at City Hall.
In the staff report to the Council this week, it was noted that “a consistent theme from all the input received from City boards and commissions was a need to increase inclusion of diverse perspectives and experience in the participatory government.”
The report said, “The Library Board of Trustees recommended expanding representation and diversity of its membership. The Housing Commission recommended that the language requiring that board and commission applicants be qualified voters be removed because that includes a citizenship requirement for voting. Currently, the City Charter requires that members appointed by Council to serve on boards and commissions be “qualified voters of the city, actually residing within the city limits.”
This September, as part of the Housing Commission’s assessment and recommendations regarding equity in City programs, according to the staff report, “It was determined that this requirement served as a hardship for residents who do not meet it, but who would like to participate in the program. After research and review with the City attorney, it was determined that this was a change that could be made administratively. As a result, all citizenship requirements have been removed from City affordable housing program requirements. Applicants will still need to follow any applicable financing guidelines if needed.”
All of the affordable housing documents have been updated and a mailing was sent to residents who may be interested in the program informing them of this change.
In other developments from the Monday Council meeting:
The Council voted to support the proposed naming of the City Property Yard as the “Robert L. Goff Operations Yard” as an appropriate expression of thanks and appreciation to Mr. Goff for his many years of service.
The plan to have a representative of Kettler Management, the company that owns The Fields, a subsidized affordable housing property in the City, did not materialize as no representative of the company showed up. Councilman Letty Hardi said Kettler “bailed at the last minute” and urged health inspectors to be brought in.
The Council was encouraged to try again to get Kettler to show up for a meeting after residents of the property complained about a variety of maintenance shortcomings.
That resulted in an Oct. 12 meeting of residents with management at Berman Park adjacent the site, when they were told a new pest control company had been retained and mold was being treated in each unit. “A lot of progress has been made,” Dana Lewis of the City’s Department of Human Services told the Council.
November was declared “Live Local Falls Church” month, with representatives of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce present to promote the initiative first introduced by Councilman Ross Litkenhous. The goal, he said, is to encourage City residents to increase the proportion of their discretionary spending that occurs with City businesses by 20 percent during the month.
The Council recognized the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the U.S. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, as requested by the Falls Church chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The anniversary will be celebrated as part of today’s (Nov. 11) scheduled ceremony at the Veterans’ Memorial in front of the Community Center at 11 a.m.
The Council recognized November at Native American Heritage month.
Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester updated the Council on the status of no less than 25 capital improvement projects that are in various stages of completion in the Little City, beginning with the completion of the $120 million new Meridian High School, the addition of walking lanes at the W&OD trail and the expansion and renovation of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
All the projects are progressing under “environmental and equity lenses,” she reported. Historical panels being prepared for the South Washington multi-modal project are currently being fabricated, and streetlight conversions are underway.
“There are a lot of good things happening all around town right now,” said Mayor David Tarter, but they all need better promotion so that our citizens can appreciate all that is being done for them.”
The use of the $100,000 allocated by the City Council last spring for improved public outreach and communication has not yet occurred.
The Council began consideration of a 5 cent tax on all plastic bags with the aim that it be in conjunction with surrounding jurisdictions. Currently, the Council was told, the City is about three months behind progress on this initiative by its neighbors. The purpose of the tax is not to raise revenue but to discourage the environmentally-damaging use of the bags.
Councilman Letty Hardi said that there “must be a bold declaration by the Council with incentives aimed at retaining and bringing back City employees.”
The Council OK’d modifying its working deal with the Friends of the Falls Church Homeless Shelter to change the opening date of the shelter this year from November 15 to December 1.